‘Survivor’ Reality Show about Earthbag

WestcliffeDan, one of our readers, left a comment suggesting a “Survivor” style reality show that drops the winners with minimal tools and basic supplies somewhere and have them implement their designs. I instantly lit up and laughed, and think the idea is worth pursuing. It could be used to prototype the winning designs from the $300 House design competition. Or maybe prototype them in Alabama first and then send out building teams once the details were worked out. Any ideas? What seems like a joke could actually make for a good show people would enjoy and learn from. For instance, it would be great fun to watch the University of Stanford students work their way through the nitty gritty issues of building in a developing country. Perhaps the housing team could have a videographer join them and document the process. Profits from the resulting film would help offset their travel expenses.

20 thoughts on “‘Survivor’ Reality Show about Earthbag”

  1. I, for one, am all about earthbag building becoming mainstream, but I think jumping to television production is a bit of a leap. Most of the information that we endlessly search for is found online. A well put together online video source would hopefully garner enough support to give natural building a shove into the mainstream spotlight it deserves. If Habitat for Humanity would get on board with this movement, we would see building code administrators embrace our way of thinking. I also think that an organization serving/housing, impoverished single mothers would be jumping for joy to hear about earthbags as a low cost option.

    • It is a leap, but it’s kind of fun to brainstorm possibilities:)

      A Habitat group is investigating one of the earthbag projects in Haiti. The earthbag houses in that area are 1/3 the cost of the Habitat houses. And the earthbag houses are 15 degrees cooler inside. Introducing new ideas (new to them) is always an uphill battle, but bit by bit people are waking up.

  2. I am writing a proposal of sorts now… i want to start a building project here but … wow, am i insane to think that i can get building when i am not yet educated? Teachers of earthbagging are few here, Guiding Star Creation being the only couple who do workshops here, so i want to learn and learn quickly… Therefore i have to try now while this building style is not yet well known here – and get some grant money to pay for me and my project partner to go to Cal Earth. Part two of the plan is to gather some hardworking folks and build something.. i certainly would appreciate any advice you could give me! I want to make a doco because it think its the best way to show the love and sweat that goes into the building process..and im sure my learning curve will be horribly steep.. my head might explode.
    Thanks for your reply!

    • It all boils down to basic steps of filling and tamping bags. We have lots of free step-by-step guides, video clips that show each step, etc. But you have to practice them, not just read about it. Buy 10-20 bags and some soil and start practicing. Build a small corner. Later you could build a tool shed. Then take a workshop if you want from Guiding Star. There’s no need to go around the world and spend thousands of dollars. You could build yourself a nice home for that price.

  3. Hi. I had a brilliant idea a week ago to put together a project to build earthbag homes (im nota builder im a single mum) for Australians with limited money. Id then have to train local people and i am not yet trained myself. I just am obsessed with radial symmetry and superadobe just excites me very much. Who doesnt like Grand Designs? I love it but the rich spoilt English who are building with half million POUND budgets leave me cold, and i bet a lot of other people in my financial situation feel the same way. So i propose a project that places charity firmly at HOME and provides small, cute housing for Aussie Battlers, and let the drama of the show be about the hopes and dreams and striving and sweat of the participants, with the obligatory reveal and review of the owners as well. I think this can be done and actually needs to be done soon as i believe that earth changes and weather are going to get increasingly dangerous in the near future. Here in Australia i think that earthbags resistance to fire is going to be a major plus, and the shape of superadobe domes lends itself to very simple sprinker system and the whole building acts as a bunker. (which the only way some people survived Black Saturday) Quite apart from the practical sustainable aspects of domes, i just love the Hobbity style and general cuteness. Giant McMansions are passe and I agree that earthag homes might bring neighbourhood house prices down.. but only because they just look fugly in comparison with earth domes.
    I also have in my family a tv production company owner who makes really decent documentaries… so if you folk would like to talk about this… Id love to work on this project with the people that have been doing earthbagging the longest – Id be begging for assistance anyways… I think buildings should be built in different areas/countries in tandem, and all filmed along the way.
    I am exicted about this… i am excited about raschel and about geopolymers… I am also excited by new hemp based renders and i think that newfangled dry composting toilet companies and greywater reuse systems manufacturers would be glad of a project that will show their products off to an audience that is full of HOPE.

    • You’ve made so many good points that I’m not sure what to say. There may be room for two or more similar shows, maybe in different countries. I have very little knowledge about creating TV shows, so I really don’t know what approach is best. I will add that I’m not interested in going to other countries at this time, because I can accomplish more by working from home. But maybe I could help the process along as a technical consultant. Feel free to send me a summary of your proposal if you’d like. Maybe it will lead to something.

  4. What I would like to see is a This Old House/ Hometime type of show using alternative building techniques. Or a show that revolved around building an entire house from start to finish. Take for instance the Danielle Acres house. A show that centered on the building of her house would be interesting to me.

    No matter what the format, the show would have to have be able to support commercialization. That means enough viewers to make it profitable. Unfortunately a factual show on almost any topic isn’t going to garner that kind of support. Alternative building which uses little if any commercial building materials would probably only have limited sponsorship.

    There are a lot of alternative builders out there posting on YouTube. I have seen many of the videos and some are quite good. What most really lack is a consistent chronology. Many start off well, but then jump around because they are doing everything themselves. When in the middle of the project it is often hard to stop what your doing and pick up a camera.

    Another idea might be a show where you get several different experienced earthbag builders, along with say Habitat For Humanity and you document the building of several earthbag houses in a sustainable neighborhood. The people who are building the houses are doing so for themselves. Habitat helps by acquiring the land and materials. The money from the production helps pay for the building costs.

    • Excellent ideas, thanks. I particularly like your idea of videoing a house like Danielle Acres. Maybe we could locate companies that were somehow tied in. Maybe DeWalt cordless tools or a truck company.

      • “Maybe we could locate companies that were somehow tied in”.

        I would think bag providers, barb wire companies, window manufacturers and possibly epdm and steel roofing companies. There is also land companies in areas with no building codes. Tool companies, composting toilet companies, water tank and well drilling companies are also a possibility.

        • Perfect. Great ideas. That’s why I post all these ideas. Other people contribute, like you have done, and suddenly a vague possibility becomes feasible and then becomes a reality.

  5. The current reality tv formula is to make the most out of the person with the least when it comes to ideas. It is sad. Sometimes I’ll be channel surfing and it will be a topic I’m really interested in but will get so fed up with the b.s. and childish perspective that I go somewhere else. It’s bathroom humor for ideas, not worth a flip.

    What would be interesting would be real world problem solving under real world circumstances. I realize that wouldn’t be as exciting for some as watching personality conflicts under the guise of problem solving. But it might be worth a shot if you could find a program and producer that didn’t have their heads up their backends and wondering why the sun didn’t shine anymore.

    A friend of mine contacted a current hot series on Discovery producer about doing a story on the plastic blocks awhile back. They weren’t interested in doing a story about the blocks. They wanted to do another story that emphasized bad behaving adults throwing fits and acting like fools.

    What is so sad is there are a lot of people that are genuinely interested in this. They would love to see how it works and experience the creative process as it happens. They’re just not the kind of people that the television people know.

    I see a good future about this though. As the cost of the hardware comes down and the software to edit etc gets better we are going to see real life shows that are legitimate. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an internet video site dedicated to these kinds of videos where interested parties can go.

    Again, the gate keepers, television people, are experts, aka tunnel visioned bad word bad word. They’ve decided they know the viewer and what the viewer wants. They believe the viewer is an idiot who isn’t interested in learning anything.

    We all lose.

    • Good points, Harvey. Some may not know that I’ve already started an Internet video site on YouTube.

      I already have about 80 short videos with 200,000 uploads. And I just finished a full 2-hour earthbag video that shows every step of construction. It will be available soon once I figure out how to sell through CreateSpace and Amazon.

      So anyway, I’m interested in doing something even if no one else is. I know earthbag is growing in popularity (note how 3-5 of the top 10 designs in the $300 House competition are earthbag houses). I know people want to learn more (Kelly and I have the most popular earthbag sites and all are growing briskly). I think my new earthbag book will create another boost of interest.

  6. I also think cable network would just make a parody of it. Webshow or a documentary would be best.

    Possible sponsors. I ones heard that its more difficult to raise $10 000 than $1 000 000. I say aim high and see what it could give. Red cross, green peace, patagonia, mec… (http://www.studio7designs.com/blog/101-great-eco-companies/).

    If we can get a good strategy and plan I have time to help this summer. And In the winter I have planes to get down to thailand(3 months) and build my own house. If I work har I will have time to do some hard work for this too. I am quite flexible with time frames.

    I have never done a webshow(yet) or documentary but will help if needed.


  7. I was going to say something like what Peasant said – reality shows are, without exception to my knowledge, lowest common denominator fare and I don’t think we want to debase earthbag housing that way. A documentary showing that earthbag building can solve a problem while uplifting a community in crisis/poverty is a good idea (I’m sure Habitat has one or several about community cooperation in home-building, but to do it with earthbags would be better still).

    I do think there’s the issue of marginalizing earthbags, however, to the point where they’re seen as just “poor people housing” (how tragic that people think that way, but that’s global capitalism for you – oops, that’s a different conversation :)), or strictly for the commune living hippie set. If we want to promote earthbag as a superior option in general, not just for certain people in certain circumstances (or in certain countries) but for most any new construction in order to reduce our (us being humanity) over-all negative environmental impact, we have to show it in all its possible glory, from small and humble to “normal” middle class homes/buildings. Changing the scope of earthbag’s reputation will make it more likely that codes could change in the US, for instance, and make earthbag an option even in less remote parts of the country.

    Sorry for rambling, but I can’t help but mention that if the world’s resources were better managed (and I think earthbag building is one example of managing resources well), we wouldn’t have to distinguish between slum dwellings and everything else – there would be plenty for everyone to enjoy beautiful, nurturing homes. Ojalá! (If only!)

    • Do you think it could get sponsors? It would have to appeal to a wide audience. The human drama would take priority over sustainable building to keep people’s attention .

      • I don’t think leaving it to a cable TV channel would be of any benefit to the affordable housing movement. Try watching any of those reality motorcycle-building shows or car flipping shows. It is extremely difficult to learn technique from viewing said shows and it’ll just end up as a bunch of people making themselves look ridiculous. Most of the “drama” is producer induced.

        These shows exist either because a shop owner sees it as a way to advertise the business or because the shop owner wants the money that a cable TV network has offered.

        Advertisers support these shows in exchange for product placement. The only companies that I’ve seen advertise in similar shows are power tool manufacturers, window manufacturers, door manufacturers, and security system manufacturers. Most of their products cost more than the $300 limit and might not be the best fit for such a show. They would also be undermining their own businesses by supporting such a show.

        In the wrong hands, such a show could be a public image nightmare for earthbags. In my chatroom efforts to spread the word about earthbags, I often come across people who say “I don’t want to live in a mud hut.” This opinion stays strong even after I explain the economical and safety benefits of earthbags.

        One thing that I’d like to see is data on what an earthbag house does to nearby property values. Some people that I have talked to have expressed concern on the matter. My opinion is that if they do lower property values, it is because people look at them and realize just how overrated a lot of wooden frame houses are in comparison. Actual data would be more helpful than my opinion on the subject.

        • Good input. Maybe it’s best to do a documentary. That way you could delve more into the societal issues, why there’s a housing crisis, discuss possible solutions, etc. and not be reliant on blatant promotions of power tools and so on. It could be done on a shoestring budget since the cost of video equipment and software keeps going down. And if a group is going to build a project anyway, why not document the process?

          A building project like this in a slum would be an eye opening experience to say the least. Most people haven’t seen what life is like inside the worst of the worst slums. But maybe the reality is too depressing and few would want to learn what’s going on.


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